An Interview with Leonard Salzedo by Randall D. Larson
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.20/No.54, 1995
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven and Randall D. Larson
Leonard Salzedo is perhaps best known for scoring one of Hammer Films’ seminal horror pictures, THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957). His output for British films, in fact, reached nearly twenty, and he has composed more than one hundred fifty concert pieces, ranging from concertos to ballets, voice and piano works, brass ensembles to percussion music. Several of his pieces have premiered in the USA, including a 1993 performance of his ‘Four Antiphones’ at the Music with Percussion Group at the University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee. Now in his 73rd year, Salzedo is still active musically. He completed six new works in 1993 alone. Salzedo’s String Quartet No. 7 was recently performed in the U.K. at Cambridge, in a concert in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the formation of the Composer’s Guide of Great Britain. Interviewed in May, 1993, and again in August, 1994, Mr. Salzedo described his thoughts on film scoring and his experienced composing for motion pictures.
The author is grateful to the kind assistance of Ms. Claire Mitchell at PRS for arranging contact with Mr. Salzedo.
What is your background in music?
My career as a professional composer began in 1944 when my 2nd String Quartet was performed at a concert of contemporary music in January of that year. In the audience was Marie Rambert who immediately asked me to write a score for a new ballet which she was producing with her company. This was ‘The Fugitive’ and was very successful, receiving some 400 performances during the next six year, mostly in the U.K. but also in Belgium, Australia and New Zealand. Since then I have written another 16 ballet scores and almost made various arrangements and orchestrations for different ballet companies. I have also done quite a lot of conducting for ballet, quite often of my own music.
How did you become involved in film scoring?
I had been very interested in the possibility of writing for films and in the spring of 1954 I asked my friend Malcolm Arnold (we had been students together) if he could help me get a commission. He immediately put me in touch with (music director) John Hollingsworth who asked me to write the music for THE STRANGER CAME HOME, a Hammer thriller starring Paulette Godard and William Sylvester.
That was directed by Terence Fisher, who went on to become Hammer’s greatest horror director. How closely did you work with him on the music?
The only time I met Terence Fisher was when we saw the film through for the first time. After that I worked very closely with John Hollingsworth. Michael Carreras, the producer, came to the recording sessions, but this seemed merely to make sure that everything was satisfactory from the music point of view. This was the case in all six feature films which I wrote for Hammer: it was the producer and not the director with whom I came into contact.
What is your view of the purpose of film music? How do you try to achieve that purpose in your own music, utilizing your own style?
The purpose of film music should be to enhance the dramatic effect of the film. It came as a follow up to incidental music to plays. However, while a lot of the music written in the past for the theater is very good and can exist in the concert hall in its own right, this cannot be said for much film music. This came about because of the possibility of having music during dramatic scenes and during dialog and of course especially in love scenes. And with the ability to synchronize it precisely with the film, it took on a different function. I think that much of the film music written since the “talkies” started back in the 1920s is little more than padding to boost rather bad scenes. I know myself that sometimes the scene for which I had to write some background music did not suggest anything in particular musically. I simply had to produce a rather negative musical noise. I think that a very small percentage of what I have written for the cinema has any musical value in its own right. To listen to it away from the film would be rather boring. I go quite regularly to the cinema and I find that a lot of the music seems to be somewhat superfluous and very often too loud. I remember many years ago a French film called UN CARNET DU BAL, which used a waltz tune very quietly in the background; this was extremely effective and produced a great atmosphere of nostalgia.
What influences have you found significant in your film music composition?
I have always been a regular film goer and always listened very carefully to the music. Also from 1950 onwards, when I was a member of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, I played in many film sessions; which gave me an insight into how it was done. My influences were Prokofiev, Walton, Vaughan Williams and Leonard Bernstein. Although of these the only one I played in the studio was Walton. Much of the music I played in the studio seemed to me to be very second rate as music, but I must say, at the same time, that much of it was very effective and certainly fulfilled its purpose.
When you first see a film, prior to scoring it, what impressions do you get, musically? How do you decide what type of music to use, and when?
When I first see a film, I do not always get any particular impressions of what kind of music I will write. That comes later when I sit down with the cue sheet. As far as “when” is concerned, this is a matter of discussion with the director. Sometimes this is obvious but not always. Very often the director might have very precise ideas of when there should be music and what kind, and of course this often makes my job easier.
John Hollingsworth was Hammer’s music director during their formulative years in the adventure, mystery and horror genres. How did you find working with him?
Obviously, Hammer had great faith and trust in John Hollingsworth and I worked very closely with him, going over my sketches on the piano before making the final orchestration. The only film for which this did not happen was THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, because just after we had seen the film through and decided on the music sections, John became very ill with tuberculosis and Muir Mathieson took over and conducted the sessions.
What was your musical approach toward these early Hammer films? What kind of music did they require, and what elements did you accentuate with your music?
I did not have any particular music style but simply took each film as it came and wrote what seemed appropriate. As to the question of what they required, I think that Hammer trusted each composer to produce something suitable. Most of the films I wrote for them were serious and fairly dramatic and it was this I tried to emphasize.
What sort of orchestration did you use on these scores? How large of an orchestra was available to you?
The size of the orchestra was dictated partly by how much Hammer wanted to spend on the music and how many musicians they would get into the recording studio. We mostly used Anvil Studios where the music recording was not too big and we used a medium sized orchestra: 2 flutes (piccolo), oboe (cor anglais), 2 clarinets (bass clarinet), bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani, percussion, harp and strings (about 14).
I’m especially fond of your score for REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN. The subtle interplay between the themes for Karl and the Monster – especially as the two merge into one – was highly effective…
For THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN we used the A.B.P.C. Studios at Elstree. As this was a larger studio we used a slightly larger orchestra. The same wind, brass and percussion but more strings. It’s been so long since I’ve seen it that I’ve largely forgotten what I wrote! I do remember that most of the music was atonal using a sequence of eight notes in different ways. I wanted to get away from certain musical clichés which had become associated with music scores for horror films: muted brass and tremolo strings! It has been the most successful film score which I have written and still brings in some royalties after all this time.
What kind of music did you write for your other Hammer films, which were mostly dramas and mystery pictures?
For THE STRANGER CAME HOME, my first film, I used mainly dramatic music with more romantic interludes as required. I remember that I had a special sequence for the scenes where William Sylvester had amnesia, with high strings, low clarinet and a vibraphone. Also a special section for strings and percussion only for the night time scene by the lake. I have since used an adaptation of this scene in a chamber work, my ‘Partita for Percussion and String Quartet’.
THE MASK OF DUST was very straightforward, mostly romantic with more dramatic sections. Quiet strings for the church scene, a march at the race track. I used a slightly jazzy section for the hotel lobby. One of Liszt’s consolations is played on the piano at one point in the film, and I used that also in some of the other segments.
THE GLASS CAGE had a more “circussy” atmosphere and I wrote a special sequence to underline that and also a little waltz section.
WOMEN WITHOUT MEN (called BLONDE BAIT in the USA) was mainly dramatic as there were scenes in jail. I remember that I used a timpani beat in the Main Titles to give a foreboding atmosphere.
The score for THE STEEL BAYONET used a similar technique to that of FRANKENSTEIN but with a different atmosphere to suggest the hot, dry desert conditions. More recently I wrote a score for the HAMMER HOUSE OF HORRORS television series, but this was less satisfactory as insufficient time was allowed for the recording.
How did you enjoy working at Hammer? Was the studio supportive of its musicians and composers? The studio certainly elevated horror film music to new and spectacular heights. What was it like to work there?
I enjoyed working at Hammer very much. The studio was certainly very supportive at all times. They certainly elevated the horror film. I remember Anthony Hinds saying to me that they made X THE UNKNOWN without expecting it to do very much but it was so successful that they did many more horror films and never looked back. Also they gave many young composers like myself the opportunity to write interesting scores.
Hammer occasionally re-used some of their scores, though not to the extent that American studios like Universal did. For example, some of your music was recycled in a scene on THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, which Benjamin Frankel scored. Can you enlighten me on this evidently infrequent practice?
I am aware of the fact that Hammer borrowed a section of my music for THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN and used it in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF. This also happened to me on another occasion when 20th Century Fox took some of my music from SEA WIFE and used it in ISLAND IN THE SUN. I first became aware of these facts when I received my statements from the Performing Right Society (our equivalent of ASCAP) and unfamiliar titles were included. I do not know how widespread this practice is but I am sure that it has happened on many occasions.
Speaking of , what sort of musical approach were you taking on this film?
With SEA WIFE I had a slightly different situation that normal. This was for two reasons. Firstly, they had a tune by Tolchard Evans which they wanted as a theme throughout the film; and secondly I wrote the music in collaboration with Kenneth Jones. We worked out in advance exactly who would write each section and of course having a tune sometimes made my job much easier, even using it for one section when one of the characters is attacked by a shark! I did the Main Titles and End Titles for that film; in the Main Titles we used a small choir and a singer with the tune.
Several of your scores have been for documentary films. What sort of music did these films require? How would you contrast their needs with the more dramatic needs of the Hammer films?
Writing music for a documentary film can be very different for a feature. Very often it gives the opportunity for more interesting textures, especially when you have something like a close-up of insects. Also, sometimes with shots of ethnic interest you can use or imitate local music. With these sorts of films I often used a much smaller group of instruments than a feature film, and it was more like writing chamber music.
You’ve written many different types of music for many different mediums – the concert hall, the theater, and film. How do you contrast your film music with that for other mediums? What rewards do you find in scoring for films and television?
I mentioned earlier that, very often, what I write for the cinema has little or no value in the concert hall and requires a different approach from other music. However, this does not mean that it is less interesting to write. It serves a precise function and requires one’s full professional technique in order to be successful. Of course the other factor in writing film music is that usually it has to be done quickly. I do not know whether this might have an effect on the quality of the music, but I think not. Certainly one thing I found very helpful was hearing the music so soon after it had been written. This certainly helped me in learning how to use an orchestra. So often with my other music I have to wait so long before there is a performance.
One other difference between writing film music and any other kind is that film music has to be precisely timed. If I am writing a concert piece and I want it to last four minutes, it does not really matter if it is a few seconds shorter or longer. With film music, however, every section has to be exactly the right number of seconds and must contain within it several “synch points” which must happen at the exact moment of some action on the screen. In the theater, you also need to time each section, but not quite so precisely. Also in incidental music for plays I have had to write songs, which has never happens with a film.
Your film scores encompassed 17 films from 1954-1961. What brought you back in 1980 to score the Hammer TV episode, THE SILENT SCREAM?
In 1980, Hammer was making their horror series and wanted to have a signature tune for the whole series but music for each one by a different composer. Sections were written by John McCabe, Paul Patterson, Wilfred Josephs and others, including myself. I happened to be a friend of Phil Martell, who was Hammer’s music director at that time, and he asked me to do THE SILENT SCREAM. Sadly, he died earlier this year.
How did scoring this TV episode contrast with your feature film scores? What differences in musical and recording techniques did you find after 20 years?
The orchestra for THE SILENT SCREAM was slightly smaller than before, but also used a synthesizer, which was not known in the 1950s. Of course, there was one big advance in the 1950s and that was the introduction of stereo sound. MGM had their three-track system, which was used in SEA WIFE and with an orchestra of 40 plus a small choir and singer in the main titles, made a very good sound. Also, the actual quality of recording has improved greatly in the intervening years so that the sound is very much better.
What is your opinion of current film music today? Would you consider scoring films again?
Much of the film music today is very good. I thought that the score for SCHINDLER’S LIST was very good, as was the piano music by Michael Nyman for THE PIANO. But as I said earlier, some of it is too loud; it intrudes where it should be in the background. I would certainly be willing to write another film score today if asked. But I will not actively seek a commission. I have had several performances this year and fairly regular commissions during the last few years.